ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica A. McMinn is a grimdark fantasy author based in regional Australia with a passion for dark fantasy, dark coffee and cats (which, let’s face it, are all dark inside).
Since graduating from the University of Wollongong with Distinction in BCA (Creative Writing) and BA (Japanese), Jessica spent five years in Japan teaching English while refining her writing craft.
She now works as a freelance writer and offers editing and coaching services to authors. When she is not writing (which is more often than you’d think), Jessica can be found raising her two beautiful children or immersed in an audiobook while drawing, crafting or playing video games.
Her debut novel, The Ruptured Sky, is the first installment in the gritty dark fantasy quartet, Gardens of War & Wasteland, and isperfect for fans of Robin Hobb, Anna Stephens and R F Kuang.
First of all, congrats on gaining the cool semi-finalist badge and thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! Before we start, could you tell us a little bit about the woman behind the story?
Thank YOU so much—I’m so honoured to have been selected.
Alrighty, I’m an Australian mum living in the bush with my Japanese husband and our two beautiful children (4yo + 10mths). Straight after university, where I studied a double degree in Bachelor of Arts (Japanese) and Bachelor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing), I moved to Japan where I taught English to learners aged 3 – 90 in Kyoto, and later Nagoya. We moved back to Australia in 2017, where I now work as a content writer in corporate communications and as a part-time disability employment support consultant.
The Ruptured Sky is the first of what I hope to be many, many novels, allowing for me to live the dream as a full-time author!
Was there a clear moment when you knew you wanted to become a writer? Or did you just somehow stumble into the fun?
I’ve wanted to be an author since I was about 6 years old, when I wrote an 11-page story called ‘A Night in the Graveyard’ about a whirlwind adventure with my then-best friend Penny, which took place in, well, a graveyard. I remember my Mum being so proud and she made such a big deal about the achievement that I kept on writing. It’s probably been the one hobby I’ve had consistently throughout my life.
Since then I spent a lot of time in highschool honing my ‘craft’ through fanfic (LOL) and loved feeling the rush when someone commented, gave my post a like—or better yet—SCREAMED at me about how I punched their feelings with my words. I think that’s when I really started to be like, “Man, I gotta get my stories out into the world for real”, and so I ramped up my novel writing aspirations after uni.
Who are your favourite authors? And did they have a big impact on your own writing?
Okay, I’m one of those terrible authors who got started on writing without really reading a lot. I’ve probably read more in the last 5 years than I have in my entire life, and I think that’s also why The Ruptured Sky went through SO. MANY. DRAFTS. and endured some hefty overhauls during the editing process.
I gravitate to and am inspired by authors who craft phenomenal characters that I would live and die for. Anything morally grey, dark and twisty with plenty of OMG!! moments are what I crave as a reader as it’s what I myself want to produce as a writer.
My favourite authors include Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle + Dreamer Trilogy in particular), Jay Kristoff, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, V.E Schwabb, Anna Stephens, Robin Hobb and George R.R. Martin.
I’ve recently taken a nosedive into grimdark and so am dying to read more Anna Smith Spark, R.F Kuang and Mark Lawrence as I’m totes getting the impression that they’re my jam.
Unfortunately, I’m even WORSE with the indie sphere but now I am one of them, I’m working to rectify that. I have a list of about 40 #SPFBO9 books I want to read and countless others from previous years that have my attention.
That said, my favourite indie author at the moment is 9000% my Trauma Mommy, Krystle Matar. I just devoured Legacy of the Brightwash because it was shocking and horrible and essentially everything I want to emulate haha.
Am I on my way? I hope so lol.
For those that haven’t read The Ruptured Sky, can you tell us a bit about it?
The Ruptured Sky takes all the energy and excitement of YA/NA fiction and wraps it in a dark and bloody bow, packaged just for adults. It’s the first instalment of the (grim?)dark fantasy quartet, Gardens of War & Wasteland, which sees a cast of morally grey characters navigate the precarious balance between duty and desire. The stakes are high, the emotions higher, with everything set to go to shit if someone makes the wrong choice, trusts the wrong person, or drinks a little too much wine.
Despite all the doom and gloom, it all takes place in a queer-normative world with a main cast of diverse characters, whom by all accounts, you’ll love and hate simultaneously.
How long have you had this story in your mind? What was your initial inspiration and how did the story evolve over time?
Okay, so I’ve totally been working some semblance of The Ruptured Sky for the last twenty years now…
I first came up with the idea of writing a fantasy epic when I was about 13 and my sister was involved in a text-based role playing game on a message board. At the time, there were some pretty big movie franchises at the box office—Star Wars Episode II, Fellowship of the Ring—and these had a huge impact on what I started writing (for the record, Amika was originally inspired by Padme).
I think it was around this time I also started reading epic fantasy, notably David Eddings’s The Belgariad, so originally TRS was conceived to be a classic tale of good vs evil, and I suppose a lot of those tropes are still there (chosen ones, prophecy, mentor figure, the quest…), even if I’ve turned them upside down a bit!
As I got older and my tastes matured and darkened (and I started consuming different anime/video game franchises), so too did my writing. A major turning point for me was the PS4 game, Bloodborne, and all the gorey, messed-up, body-horror shit that goes on there. I just bloody loved it! And I guess that’s when a lot of those grimdark elements started to come into play—and things got a whole lot worse for our characters lol.
Now, it’s rare for me to love all the POV characters in a multi-POV fantasy, but you accomplished it! Was it always your intention to write a multi-POV fantasy or did the story naturally develop that way?
When I first started writing The Ruptured Sky, and until about draft two or three, it was an attempt at full omniscient narration. This was reflective of the limited experience I had with actually reading fantasy: I thought it was omniscient or bust, basically.
When I went to uni, I started to learn how difficult it is to really achieve a good omniscient narration, especially if you want to be close to the characters and really connect with them, so I then narrowed it down to just being focalised on Amika. It wasn’t until I read A Song of Ice and Fire that I realised I could be inside the headspace of an ensemble cast and started to bring in the other perspectives.
And speaking of characters, could you tell us a bit about each of them and maybe share which ones you enjoyed writing the most? And were there ones that were a pain to write?
Okay so there are four perspectives in The Ruptured Sky: Amika, her brother Kio, their friend Rei-Hai, and Kriah, a weird little man they meet in a forest. Their stories are all connected, although they all have their motivations, agenda and understanding of morality.
Amika’s chapters were the easiest to write because I have spent the most time in her headspace; Rei’s were equally as enjoyable as he is not-so-secretly my favourite smol boi. They also spend a lot of time in the same space so it was also easier to keep track of their movements in the story at large because, physically, they were together.
Kio and Kriah, however—oh, my god. They drove me close to madness.
Kriah’s struggle came from the fact he was the last POV I added. I only decided to move into his headspace around draft five, I think, so I was far less experienced with him, with how he thought or felt.
And look, Kio just goes through a lot of shit so that made him really hard to write… That, and my editors had me rework his character arc like a billion times 😐
Now, what do you think makes The Ruptured Sky stand out from the crowd? Why should people pick up *this* particular grimdark fantasy?
I think the fact The Ruptured Sky is so fast-paced, it stands out a bit from standard grimdark that tends to be more of an atmospheric slow-burn, where the political intricacies and general horror of the world gradually unfurl to allow the protagonist to discover there are bigger problems beyond his immediate hardships.
And, while we do have some truly vile characters and shocking events, there is no on-page sexual assault used to establish the horror of the world or people living in it. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen (or hasn’t happened…) but it’s certainly not used as a plot device, which it often is in grimdark.
What do you hope people take away from your story? Have you had any feedback that you weren’t expecting? And what are your favourite type of reader reactions?
Is it bad to say that the biggest take away I hope for my readers is emotional damage…?
Haha, I absolutely LOVE when readers yell at me! I’ve had a couple of people message me on social media to scream about THAT. ENDING. and I totally live for that kind of response. I love books that wreck me emotionally (especially if it’s because I love the characters so much) so I’m thrilled to be the one dishing out the pain for a change!
I’ve been pretty lucky in that all my reviews so far have been pretty positive. One reviewer even proclaimed it was better than The Poppy War, haha! That blew me away a little bit! There have been some truly wonderful responses from readers so far and I’m just so grateful for everyone who has not only read but reviewed as well. It means the world.
I will say it’s been interesting to see the diversity of people’s reading tastes; I’ve received neutral feedback for aspects others raved about, and some finding it slow-burn during the first path, while others find the whole thing quick paced. Wild!
What are your plans for the series? Do you have a clear path laid out or are you just going with the flow?
I … think I know how things will end?
I’m a certified Chaotic Plantser and my outline is a skeleton at best. I have some key scenes mapped out in great detail inside that busy little brain of mine but there’s no clear map of how to get from A to B let alone all the way to Z.
I do have the main plot of each instalment laid out and how it will serve the quartet at large but that’s about it at this stage haha. Watch this space, I guess!
What made you decide to self-publish The Ruptured Sky as opposed to traditional publishing? Would you do anything differently in hindsight?
I was originally 100% determined to get a trad contract but I got to the point where I was just emotionally exhausted from the grind of querying and finally thought, “Why waste my time trying to convince others to publish my book when I can just do it myself—save that energy trying to convince people to read it instead.”
The stigma around self-published is slowly lessening with there’s a real solid community ready to support quality work. I’m also a bit of a control freak so having everything in my hands is great. The flip side of that is everything is in my hands. It’s all a bit exhausting and stressful at times and I often wonder if I’ve done the right thing investing so much time, energy and money into a passion project when I have a young family to support. But we’re down the rabbit hole now so…
If I had my time over again I definitely would have budgeted more, learnt more about niches and marketing earlier, and worked harder to embed myself in the community before publishing. Even though the book has been in production 20 years, I think I may have launched prematurely and I could have been in a better position now if I had waited a little longer.
Oh well! I guess it’s never too late to get out there and amongst it! 😀
What has been your favourite aspect of being an indie author? Any surprises or disappointments?
Definitely the community. It’s been unreal getting to know other authors and the readers who support them. Handling the business side of things has been tough but that’s just part and parcel of authorhood I suppose.
And we can’t forget about this exciting contest, of course. Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?
As a follower of Mark Lawrence, I’d known of SPFBO since well before I even decided to go indie. I ummed and ahhed for quite a while about whether indie was the publishing route for me but always knew that if it was, I would definitely try my hand at SPFBO. I was beyond stoked to even get into the comp in my first year of eligibility so to be selected as a semi-finalist is just mindblowing!
While (nervously) waiting on more SPFBO updates, what will you be working on? Are you solely focused on the Gardens of War and Wasteland series or are there any other projects in the works?
Gardens and Wasteland will be at the forefront of everything, for sure. I was hoping to get Book II out this year but it’s now looking increasingly likely it will be Q1 2024, so there’s still a lot to do.
Professionally, my local writers’ centre received a grant for me to lead some workshops for young writers in the area to write and publish their own anthology. So I’m looking forward to getting stuck into that in September instead of sweating on reviews.
Finally, I wanted to give you the opportunity to answer a question that I didn’t mention, but which you would have liked to have been asked! Please share any fun tidbits about your book/author journey that you want!
Yeah nah I’m good lol.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all the questions. I am wishing you all the best with your writing and in the competition. Feel free to leave any parting thoughts that you want to share with our readers. And enjoy celebrating becoming a semi-finalist!
Thank you so much to Esmay, Fantasy Book Critic and Mark Lawrence for this wonderful opportunity. Best of luck to all my fellow authors and all the readers drowning under their TBRs!